Every November, movie fans celebrate “Noirvember,” a month-long commemoration of film noir. A moody, pessimistic type of crime film that originated in 1940s Hollywood, film noir has enjoyed a long shelf life beyond its original postwar milieu.
Defining “film noir” (a French term that means “black film”) is surprisingly difficult. Some see it as a genre, others see it as a style that can be applied to many genres. Visually, film noir emphasizes the dark. Shadows and off-kilter compositions are commonplace, giving noir its characteristic sense of danger and dread. The classic noir films of the 1940s and 1950s tended to be shot in black-and-white, but color noir from this period exists as well.
Characters in film noir are often hard-nosed and world-weary. Cynical private eyes, calculating femmes fatales, criminals at the end of their rope, and ordinary people down on their luck are the typical inhabitants of the noir universe. Noir plots usually involve crime of some kind, either pulled off by slick professionals or guilt-addled amateurs. All have a desolate atmosphere and a sense of inevitable doom, qualities reflecting the anxieties of the atomic age.
While the classic noir cycle ended with the 1950s, noir never totally fell out of fashion. There was a resurgence of “neo-noir” in the 1960s and 1970s with movies like Chinatown. Later decades spawned their own forms of noir, often mixing and matching noir tropes with those of other genres, such as science-fiction (Blade Runner).
While noir is most associated with cinema, it has roots in detective stories, pulp magazines, and crime literature. The influence of film noir has also seeped into other mediums like video games and graphic novels.
November is popularly known as "Noirvember" by movie lovers. Noirvember is a time to celebrate film noir, a style of crime drama defined by shadowy lighting and cynical attitudes. These films were often adapted from hardboiled crime literature written by the likes of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and James M. Cain. Below are recommendations for Noirvember viewing and reading.